Richardson Highlights His Hispanic Heritage Democratic presidential hopeful Bill Richardson, the governor of New Mexico, is trying to reach out to Hispanic voters — many of whom might not know his heritage because of his last name.
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Richardson Highlights His Hispanic Heritage

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Richardson Highlights His Hispanic Heritage

Richardson Highlights His Hispanic Heritage

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  • <iframe src="" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
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Earlier this week, another candidate officially threw his hat into the ring known as Election 2008.

(Soundbite of radio show)

EL CUCUY (Radio Show Host): Senor, senores, Bill Richardson.

COHEN: Instead of making the announcement on his home turf of New Mexico, Democrat Governor Bill Richardson came here to L.A., where he made an appearance on a popular morning radio show.

(Soundbite of applause)

Governor BILL RICHARDSON (Democrat, New Mexico): Mucha gracias.

EL CUCUY: (Spanish spoken)

Gov. RICHARDSON: (Spanish spoken)

COHEN: For those who don't habla espanol, that's Richardson telling a shock jock named El Cucuy it's with great pride that I announce my candidacy for the president of the United States on your program.

Gov. RICHARDSON: (Spanish spoken)

EL CUCUY: (Spanish spoken)

COHEN: There's good reason why Richardson declared his candidacy on El Cucuy's show. The syndicated program has about three million listeners, and those listeners are exactly the kind of folks Bill Richardson needs to connect with.

Gov. RICHARDSON: My mission is to reach Latino voters, to let them know that I'm Latino and that I'm a candidate with their roots because the name Richardson is not conducive to that, and I'm a candidate that is trying to get known around the country.

COHEN: His real surname is Richardson-Lopez. His mother is Mexican. But the candidate thinks that's too much of a mouthful.

Gov. RICHARDSON: You don't want to overdo it.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Gov. RICHARDSON: In fact, at one point I thought I was going to be, when I running in New Mexico, Bill Richardson-Lopez. But then that couldn't fit on a bumper sticker, so I said, you know, that's too gimmicky. They'll know me. They can see me.

COHEN: Maybe everyone does know him in New Mexico, but nationwide it's a very different story. A recent poll commissioned by the Latino Policy Coalition found only a quarter of Latino surveyed knew which ethnic group Bill Richardson belongs to. And when Hispanic Democrats were asked who they were currently planning to vote for, Richardson placed third.

Mr. ANTONIO GONZALEZ (President, Southwest Voter Registration Education Project): It was surprising to us.

COHEN: Antonio Gonzalez is president of the Southwest Voter Registration Education Project.

Mr. GONZALEZ: Because we thought, well, we know Barack is doing good amongst blacks, Hillary is doing good amongst women. Why isn't Richardson doing good amongst Hispanics? Because he should be number one.

COHEN: Gonzalez notes that for much of his career, Bill Richardson has catered to a more mainstream demographic. And that's how he's been able to land gigs in Congress, as Bill Clinton's ambassador to the U.N., and his current stint as governor. It's only now, Gonzalez says, that Richardson has truly turned his attention to Latino voters.

Mr. GONZALEZ: So really, for him, it's a question of can he effectively and efficiently get that word out to people in a way that doesn't diminish his mainstream appeal to non-Hispanic voters? And this is always the balancing act.

COHEN: To court the Latino vote, Richardson has a number of things working in his favor. He grew up in Mexico City, and he speaks Spanish fluently.

Unidentified Woman: (Spanish spoken)

Gov. RICHARDSON: (Spanish spoken)

COHEN: That fluency has earned him a fair amount of airtime in the Spanish-language media. But he's not the only candidate Univision and Telemundo are talking about.

Mr. ADAM SEGAL (Johns Hopkins University): The Hispanic media really knows Hillary Clinton very well.

COHEN: Adam Segal is founder of the Hispanic Voter Project at Johns Hopkins University. He says the Clinton name has a lot of clout among Hispanics.

Mr. SEGAL: She has been enlisting a growing list of supporters within the Hispanic community. And you know, the Hispanic media certainly reports on every one of those steps and endorsements.

COHEN: But it's early in the election season, and even if Bill Richardson can just get the word out that he is Latino, that could be enough to turn things in his favor. Gabriel Escobar of the Pew Hispanic Center says they have surveyed voters and asked: would you vote for a Latino candidate over a non-Latino candidate who is more qualified?

Mr. GABRIEL ESCOBAR (Pew Hispanic Center): Which is a standard question that is asked in surveys, and almost six in 10 say yes.

COHEN: Will that translate into actual votes? Tough to say. And, Escobar notes, the Latino vote may not be big enough to get Richardson into the White House.

Mr. ESCOBAR: In the last election, it was about 8.6 percent. It is a very small percentage of the total electorate in the United States.

COHEN: But it's a quickly growing demographic. And Adam Segal of the Hispanic Voter Project notes that Latino voters are heavily concentrated in certain states.

Mr. SEGAL: In some key primaries, in the Democratic primaries such as in California and in Nevada and elsewhere, he certainly has a chance to help capture a larger share of the vote as a result of having been seen as a favorite of the Hispanic community.

COHEN: So if you live in a state with a large Latino population, don't be too surprised if Bill Richardson shows up at the local Spanish-language radio show near you soon.

Unidentified People: (Spanish spoken) - Richardson, Richardson, ra, ra, ra!

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